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Sussex County awarded federal grant of $500K to replace Skylands Ride minibuses, other projects underway

NEWTON, NJ (Sussex County) – The County of Sussex recently received federal grant monies to upgrade its commuter minibuses, with other projects coming to life thanks to federal funding, including revival of the Lackawanna Cut-Off Passenger Rail Project, as well as county road improvements, through the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

Tom Drabic, the principal transportation planner through the Sussex County Department of Engineering and Planning, credited Sussex County Freeholder Joshua Hertzberg, for his involvement and assistance in seeing these projects come to fruition.

“He’s been very involved in the NJTPA,” Drabic said.

The advocacy of State Sen. Steve Oroho, R-24th Dist. for his support of large-scale projects, with tax dollars from the State Transportation Trust Fund aiding in financing projects, Drabic said.

“I just hope everyone understands the amount of advocating it takes to get this much work done for Sussex County,” said Hertzberg. “I have been lucky enough to work with and learn from Tom Drabic at the county. He has been an amazing advocate of our county and continues to do a great job on all of our behalf. I’m very proud of the work we have done together, and am thankful that our District 24 Legislators, Steve Oroho, Hal Wirths and Parker Space, make sure that Sussex County isn’t left out in Trenton.”

Drabic said Sussex County’s minibus project, which was proposed and applied for by the Sussex County Department of Health and Human Services/Skylands Ride, was one of three chosen by the NJTPA for $500,000 grant funding, as part of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program for Local Mobility Initiatives.

Through that program, four of the Skylands Ride minibuses used for the Skylands Connect Route, which operates Monday through Friday to Newton, Sparta, Ogdensburg, Franklin, Hamburg and Sussex Borough, will likely be replaced, Drabic said.

“This Route serves a number of employment locations within the county and is used by many people going to work,” Drabic said.

The federal grant, Drabic said, should cover nearly the entire project, with little to no county funds required. The new minibuses, he said, will be handicap accessible with wheelchair lifts. They will also feature upgraded COVID protections, including plexiglass enclosures for bus drivers.

One of the other longtime projects that had been previously shelved, the Roseville Tunnel design and build project on the Lackawanna Cut-off, should be reality in the next few years, Drabic said. NJ Transit advertised for Request for Qualifications of firms capable of executing the design and construction phases of this complex project. The historic and rocky Roseville Tunnel that served the Lackawanna Cut-Off from 1911 through 1979, will require excavation, waterproof lining, a pedestrian path within the tunnel, radio systems, cameras and other upgrades, to return it to current standards for passenger rail service, Drabic said.

Firms that submit a RFQ will be short-listed, Drabic added, with those groups invited to submit a full proposal, chosen at NJ Transit’s board meeting in June.

In September, Drabic said the selected firm will be given the green light to move ahead with the project.

Similar processes and schedules will follow for the Hudson Farm Culvert Replacement. Highway and bridge projects are additionally slated for Sussex County, Drabic said.

One is the $12.8 million, federally funded Hardyston Route 23 Safety Improvement Project, with safety, drainage and operational improvements at the northern Laceytown Road, East Shore Road and Holland Mountain Road sections.

Route 15 will also be upgraded, Drabic said, with replacement of the bridge in Lafayette over the Paulins Kill River, constructed in 1915. This project, planned for completion by 2022 with $8.2 million in federal funds, will encompass sidewalk upgrades for pedestrian safety.

A resurfacing project will be underway on Route 15 in Lafayette and Frankford, from Route 94 to Ross’ Corner by Route 206 and County Route 565, as part of the NJTPA Transportation Improvement Program for 2021. This project, expected to extend the life of the highway, will also be sourced from $7.3 million in federal funds.

“Sussex County residents are welcome to offer their input for the NJTPA long range transportation plan, outlining goals through Plan 2050, by completing the survey at NJTPA.org,” Drabic said.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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